Ritual (禮/lǐ) consists of a combination of elaborate ceremonies and unwritten rules of behavior that govern smooth social interactions. The term has also been translated as “rites”, “rules”, “rules of proprietary”, “rules of behavior”, “courtesy”, “manners”, “etiquette” or “ethics”. Numerous references to the rites can be found in the Analects.
Book 1, Chapter XII
Book 1, Chapter XIII
Book 1, Chapter XV
Book 2, Chapter III
Book 2, Chapter V
Book 2, Chapter XXXIII
Book 3, Chapter I
Book 3, Chapter II
Book 3, Chapter III
Book 3, Chapter IV
Book 3, Chapter VI
Book 3, Chapter VII
Book 3, Chapter VIII
Book 3, Chapter IX
Book 3, Chapter X
Book 3, Chapter XI
Book 3, Chapter XII
Book 3, Chapter XV
Book 3, Chapter XVII
Book 3, Chapter XVIII
Book 3, Chapter XIX
Book 3, Chapter XXII
Book 3, Chapter XXVI
Book 4, Chapter XIII
Book 6, Chapter XXVII
Book 7, Chapter IX
Book 7, Chapter XVII
Book 7, Chapter XXX
Book 8, Chapter II
Book 8, Chapter VIII
Book 9, Chapter III
Book 9, Chapter X
Book 9, Chapter XI
Book 9, Chapter XII
Book 9, Chapter XV
Book 9, Chapter XVI
Book 10, Chapter I
Book 10, Chapter II
Book 10, Chapter III
Book 10, Chapter IV
Book 10, Chapter V
Book 10, Chapter VI
Book 10, Chapter VII
Book 10, Chapter VIII
Book 10, Chapter IX
Book 10, Chapter X
Book 10, Chapter XI
Book 10, Chapter XII
Book 10, Chapter XIII
Book 10, Chapter XIV
Book 10, Chapter XV
Book 10, Chapter XVI
Book 10, Chapter XVIII
Book 10, Chapter XIX
Book 10, Chapter XX
Book 10, Chapter XXI
Book 10, Chapter XXII
Book 10, Chapter XXIII
Book 10, Chapter XXIV
Book 10, Chapter XXV
Book 10, Chapter XXVI
Book 11, Chapter I
Book 11, Chapter VIII
Book 11, Chapter X
Book 11, Chapter XI
Book 11, Chapter XXVI
Book 12, Chapter 1
Book 12, Chapter II
Book 12, Chapter V
Book 12, Chapter XV
Book 13, Chapter III
Book 13, Chapter IV
Book 14, Chapter XII
Book 14, Chapter XL
Book 14, Chapter XLI
Book 14, Chapter XLIV
Book 15, Chapter XVIII
Book 15, Chapter XXXIII
Book 16, Chapter II
Book 16, Chapter V
Book 16, Chapter XIII
Book 17, Chapter I
Book 17, Chapter IV
Book 17, Chapter XI
Book 17, Chapter XX
Book 17, Chapter XXI
Book 17, Chapter XXIV
Book 20, Chapter III
Youzi said: “When practicing ritual, harmony is the key. This is what made the Way of the ancient kings so beautiful and inspired their every action, no matter how great or small. But they also knew where to draw the line, recognizing that if harmony is not governed by ritual everything will fall out of balance.”
Youzi said: “Trustworthiness is close to rightness because it means that your word can be counted on. Reverence is close to ritual because it means that you avoid shame and disgrace. Never losing sight of these virtues is worthy of respect.”
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves ritual.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! I only have to tell you what came before, and you can work out what comes next!”
Confucius said: “If you govern people by laws and regulations and keep them under control through punishments, they will evade them and have no sense of shame. If you govern them by the power of virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you of their own accord.”
Meng Yizi asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius said: “Never be disobedient.” While Fan Chi was driving him in his chariot, Confucius told him: “Meng Yizi asked me about filial piety and I replied: ‘Never be disobedient.’” Fan Chi asked: “What does that mean?” Confucius replied: “When your parents are alive, serve them according to the rites. When they die, bury them according to the rites, and make sacrifices to them according to the rites.”
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin dynasty adopted the rites of the Xia dynasty; we know what was discarded and what was added. The Zhou dynasty adopted the rites of the Yin dynasty: we know what was discarded and what was added. If the Zhou dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”
When he heard that the head of the Ji Family used eight rows of dancers to perform in the ceremonies at his ancestral temple, Confucius commented: “If he is capable of that, what isn’t he capable of?”
When the Three Families performed the Yong ode while the vessels were being removed at the end of their ancestral sacrifices, Confucius said: “‘The lords are in attendance, the Son of Heaven sits solemnly on his throne.’ How can such words be used in the halls of the Three Families?”
Confucius said: “If a man has no goodness, what can he have to do with the rites? If a man has no goodness, what can he have to do with music?”
Lin Fang asked: “What is the essence of the rites?” Confucius said: “That is a big question! For festive ceremonies, simplicity is better than extravagance; for funerals, genuine grief is better than excessive formality.”
The head of the Ji Family was about to set off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” The Master said: “Oh no! Has it ever been said that the spirit of Mount Tai have even less knowledge of the rites than Lin Fang?”
Confucius said: “A leader avoids competing with others. But if he does have to compete, it should be at archery. As he bows and exchange courtesies before the contest and enjoy drinks after it, he still remains a leader even when competing.”
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile
Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Are the rites also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You have opened up my eyes to true meaning of these verses! It is only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”
Confucius said: “How can I talk about the rites of the Xia Dynasty? The state of Qi has not preserved sufficient evidence. How can I talk about the rites of Yin Dynasty? The state of Song has not preserved sufficient evidence. There are not enough written records and learned men; if there were, I could obtain evidence from them.”
Confucius said: “After the opening libation has been performed at the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, I have no desire to watch the rest of the ceremony.”
When someone asked about the meaning of the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, Confucius replied: “I do not know. Anyone who knows that would rule the world as easily as I can put this here.” Then he pointed his finger towards the palm of his hand.
Sacrifice requires presence: you should sacrifice to the spirits as if they are there. Confucius said: “If I am not fully present at the sacrifice, it’s as if I didn’t attend the sacrifice at all.”
When Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this guy was an expert on the rites? When he visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he had to ask about everything that was happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is the rites.”
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love the rites.”
Confucius said: “When someone serves his lord in full accordance with the rites, people regard him as a sycophant.”
Duke Ding asked: “How should a leader treat their ministers? How should ministers serve their leader?” Confucius replied: “A leader should treat their ministers in accordance with the rites; ministers should serve their leader with loyalty.”
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong was a man of truly mediocre capabilities.” Someone objected: “Wasn’t Guan Zhong frugal?” Confucius replied: Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know the rites?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew the rites, then who doesn’t know them?”
Confucius said: “How can I bear to even contemplate a person who lacks tolerance when in high office, reverence when performing the rites, and grief when in mourning?”
Confucius said: “If a ruler is able to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what difficulties will they encounter? If a ruler is unable to govern a state by observing the rites and showing deference, what use are the rites to them?”
Confucius said: “A leader expands his learning through culture and keeps his behavior in check through the rites; as a result, he is unlikely to go wrong.”
When Confucius dined next to someone in mourning, he never ate his fill. On a day when he had been weeping, Confucius never sang.
Occasions when Confucius used standard pronunciation: when reciting the Book of Songs and the Book of Documents, and when carrying out ritual ceremonies. On all these occasions, he used standard pronunciation.
The Duke of She asked Zilu about Confucius. Zilu did not reply. Confucius said: “Why did you not say, ‘He is the kind of man who gets so lost in his passions that he forgets to eat and so caught up in his happiness that he forgets his worries while refusing to accept that he is growing old’?”
Chen Sibai asked: “Did Duke Zhao understand the rites?” Confucius said: “Yes, he understood the rites.” Confucius withdrew. With a bow, Chen invited Wuma Qi to come forward and said to him: “I have heard it said that a true leader is never biased. But isn’t your master biased after all? The Duke took a wife from the state of Wu, but since she belonged to his own clan he changed her name to Wu Mengzi. If the Duke understood the rites, who doesn’t understand them?” Wuma Qi reported this to Confucius. Confucius said: “I am fortunate indeed: whenever I make a mistake, there is always someone on hand to let me know about it.”
Confucius said: “Reverence without the rites descends into indifference; cautiousness without the rites descends into timidity; boldness without the rites descends into disorder; frankness without the rites descends into hurtfulness. If a leader is devoted to his family, the people are inclined towards goodness; if he doesn’t forget about his old friends, the people will not shirk their obligations to others.”
Confucius said: “Find inspiration with the Book of Songs; establish your character with the rites; reach fulfillment with music.”
Confucius said: “According to the rites, the ceremonial cap should be made of hemp; these days it is made of silk. This is more economical and I follow the general practice. According to rites, you should make your bow at the bottom of the steps; nowadays people make their bow on top of the steps. This is excessive, and even though it goes against the general practice I make my bow at that bottom of the steps.”
Whenever Confucius saw someone in mourning dress, or a grandee in ceremonial robes, or a blind person, even if they were younger than him he would always rise to his feet or quicken his step if he had to pass by them.
Yan Hui said with a heavy sigh: “The more I contemplate it, the higher it seems; the deeper I probe it, the harder it becomes; when I catch a glimpse of it in front of me, it is suddenly behind me. Our master knows how to lure people skillfully and methodically. He broadens my mind with literature and culture and restrains me with the rites. Even if I wanted to stop, I could not. Just as all my talents are exhausted, there seems to be something new towering above me. But although I long to follow it, I cannot find it.”
Confucius was seriously ill. Zilu had the disciples act as if they were retainers of a lord. When his illness went into remission, Confucius said: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive Heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my disciples. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I shall not die by the side of the road.”
Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that the music was reformed and the court songs and sacrificial hymns put in the proper order.”
Confucius said: “I have never found it difficult to serve my superiors abroad; show respect to my elders at home; mourn the dead with proper reverence; and not be overcome with wine.”
When Confucius was at home in his native village, he was unassuming and warm and seemed reluctant to speak. When he was in the ancestral temple or at court, however, he spoke with eloquence but due caution.
When he was at court chatting with officials in the lower ranks, he was genial; when he was conversing with officials in the upper ranks, he was respectful. When the ruler was present, he looked dignified and serene.
When the ruler ordered him to welcome guests to court, he assumed a serious expression on his face and walked at a rapid pace. As he bowed and saluted to the left and the right, he made sure that his gown flowed backwards and forwards in perfect rhythm with the movements of his body. When he rushed forward, his sleeves fluttered like the wings of a bird. After seeing off the guests, he always returned to announce: “The guests have gone.”
When entering the gate of the duke’s palace, he walked in stealthily. He never stood in the middle of the gateway, nor did he step on the threshold. When he passed in front of the duke’s throne, he adopted a serious expression on his face, quickened his step, and showed great reluctance to speak. When he lifted up the hem of his gown in preparation for walking up the steps of the audience hall, he inhaled deeply as if he didn’t dare to breathe. On leaving, after descending the first step, an expression of relief enveloped his face. When he reached the bottom step, he walked swiftly, as if on wings. On returning to his original position, he assumed a respectful look again.
When carrying a jade tablet, he bowed as if bending under its weight. When he held it high, he looked as if he was bowing, and when he held it low he looked as if he was going to make an offering. He adopted a solemn expression, and he walked in short steps as if following a straight line. When participating in a ritual ceremony, he looked refined. When in a private meeting, he looked happy.
A leader does not wear purple or maroon decorations on his gown; red and purple should not be used for casual wear at home. During the summer, he wears a fine or coarse linen singlet, but never goes out without wearing a gown. With a black robe, he wears lamb skin; with a white robe, he wears fawn skin; and with a yellow robe, he wears fox skin. The fur robe he wears at home is long and has a shorter right sleeve. His nightgown is very long. Thick furs such as fox and badger are worn at home. Except when he is in mourning, he wears all the ornaments on his girdle. Apart from his ceremonial robe, the layers of his other robes are cut to different lengths. At funerals, he does not wear lamb skin or black caps. On New Year’s Day, he attends court dressed in full court attire.
During periods of abstinence, he wore a plain robe made of coarse linen. During periods of abstinence, he changed his diet and did not sit in his usual place when at home.
He ate high-quality rice and finely-cut meat. If the food was rotten or rancid, if the fish wasn’t fresh, and if the meat was spoiled, he didn’t eat it. If the food was off-color, he didn’t eat it. If it smelled bad, he didn’t eat it. If it was undercooked, he didn’t eat it. If it was not served at the proper time, he didn’t eat it. If it was not cut properly, he didn’t eat it. If it was not served in its proper sauce, he didn’t eat it. Even if there was plenty of meat, he didn’t eat more meat than rice. As for wine, however, there was no limit as long as he remained sober. He didn’t consume wine or meat bought from the market. He was never without ginger when he ate, but used it only in moderation.
After assisting at the duke’s sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat overnight. When carrying out routine sacrifices at home, he didn’t keep the meat for more than three days. After the third day, he didn’t eat it.
When eating, he did not talk. When retiring to bed, he did not speak.
Even if the food only consisted of coarse rice, vegetable soup, and melons, he made a sacrificial offering in a grave and respectful manner.
He didn’t sit on a mat unless it was straight.
When the villagers were drinking together, he didn’t leave until the elders had departed.
When the villagers carried out an exorcism ceremony, he put on his court dress and stood on the eastern steps.
When sending his greetings to someone in another state, he would bow twice before sending the messenger on his way.
When Ji Kangzi sent him some medicine, Confucius bowed as he accepted the gift but said: “Since I don’t know what this substance is, I dare not taste it.”
When his ruler sent him a gift of pre-cooked food, he straightened his mat and was the first person to taste it. When his ruler sent him a present of raw meat, he cooked it and offered it to the spirits of his ancestors. When his ruler gave him a live animal, he reared it. When dining with his ruler, he was the first one to taste the food after the ruler had performed the sacrificial offering.
When he fell ill and his ruler came to visit him, he had himself laid with his head facing the east and his body covered by his court dress with a sash laid across it.
Whenever his ruler summoned him, he would set off without waiting for the horses to be harnessed to his carriage.
When visiting the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything.
When a friend died and there was no one to take care of their funeral, he said: “Let me look after it.”
When receiving a gift from a friend, he wouldn’t bow even if it was something as valuable as a horse and carriage. The only gift he would bow for was one of sacrificial meat.
In bed, he did not lie stiffly like a corpse; at home, he was informal and relaxed.
When he saw someone in mourning clothes, he adopted a solemn expression on his face and remained distant even if he knew them well. When he saw someone wearing a ceremonial cap or a blind person, he was courteous even if they were in an agitated state. When riding in his carriage, he expressed his condolences to anyone he passed who was in mourning, even if they were a mere street hawker. When offered rich delicacies at a banquet, he showed his deep appreciation. When he heard a sudden clap of thunder or a ferocious wind an expression of awe came over his face.
When climbing into his carriage, he stood and faced it squarely and then grasped the hand strap. Once in the carriage, he didn’t turn to look at those standing behind him, talk loudly, or point with his finger.
Startled by a sudden movement, the bird flew off and then landed again. It is said: “The hen pheasant on the mountain bridge; what perfect timing, what perfect timing!” Zilu motioned towards the bird, which sniffed three times and flew away.
Confucius said: “The first people to advance the rites and music were people living in the wilds; members of the ruling class didn’t advance them until later. If I had to put them to use, I would follow the ones who advanced them first.”
顏淵死，顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰：「才不才，亦各言其子也。鯉也死，有棺而無 ；吾不徒行，以為之 ，以吾從大夫之後，不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father, Yan Lu, asked if he could use the wood from Confucius’s carriage so that he could make an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, everyone speaks highly of their own son. When my own son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin only but there was no outer coffin. I did not walk on foot in order to provide an outer coffin. Because I am following right behind the grandees, it is not proper that I should go on foot.”
When Yan Hui died, Confucius dissolved into paroxysms of grief. His followers said: “Master, such grief is excessive.” Confucius said: “Is it excessive? If I don’t grieve for this man, who else should I grieve for?”
When Yan Hui died, the disciples wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This is not right.” When the disciples gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui looked upon me as his father, but I was not given the chance to treat him as my son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.”
Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”
Zilu eagerly replied first: “Give me a middle-sized country wedged between powerful neighbors that is under attack from invading armies and gripped by drought and famine. If I were to govern it, within three years I would give its people courage and set them in the right direction.”
Confucius smiled at him: “Ran Qiu, what about you?” Ran Qiu replied: “If I was allowed to run a territory of sixty or seventy or, say, fifty to sixty li, within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As for the rites and music, they would have to wait for a true man of character to take over.”
“Gongxi Chi, what about you?” “I am not saying that I would be able to do this, but I would like to try: in the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a diplomatic conference, wearing ceremonial cap and robes, I would like to act as a junior official.”
“And what about you, Zeng Dian?” Zeng Dian plucked one final chord of the zither he had been playing and put it down by his side. He replied: “My wish is very different than those of my three companions.” Confucius said: “What harm is there in that? After all, each one is simply speaking from his heart.”
Zeng Dian said: “In late spring, after all the spring clothes have been made, I would like to go out together with five or six companions and six or seven boys to bathe in the River Yi, enjoy the breeze on the Rain Dance Terrace, and then return home singing.” Confucius let out a wistful sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”
After the other three disciples had left, Zeng Dian stayed behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each was indeed speaking from his heart.”
Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?” Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to the rites, but his words showed no such restraint. That is why I smiled.”
“Ran Qiu was actually talking about running an independent country, wasn’t he?” “Of course. Have you ever seen ‘a territory of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li?’”
“And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about running a country as well?” “A diplomatic conference in the Ancestral Temple! What could this be but an affair of state?” And if Gongxi Chi were there merely to act as junior official, who could possibly be qualified to act as the senior one?”
Zilu, Zeng Dian, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Chi were sitting with Confucius. Confucius said: “Forget for a moment that I am your elder. You often say: ‘People do not recognize our talents.’ But if you were given the opportunity, what would you wish to do?”
Zilu rushed to reply first: “Give me a medium-sized country squeezed between powerful neighbors that is under attack and in the grip of drought and famine. Put me in command and within three years, I would revive the courage of the people and guide them in the right direction.”
Confucius smiled: “Ran Qiu, what about you?”
Ran Qiu replied: “Give me a domain of sixty or seventy – or, say, fifty to sixty li (miles); within three years I would secure the prosperity of its people. As regards the rites and music, I would have to wait for the intervention of a true man of character.”
“Gongxi Chi, what about you?”
Gongxi Chi replied: “I’m not saying that I would be able to do this, but I’m willing to learn! During the ceremonies at the Ancestral Temple, such as a conference for instance, I would like to serve as a junior assistant wearing a dark square robe and black linen cap.”
“And what about you, Zeng Dian?”
Zeng Dian, who had been softly playing his zithern, plucked one last chord and put his instrument aside. He replied: “I’m afraid my wish is not up to the same level as the wishes of my three companions.” Confucius said: “What is the harm in that? After all, each is simply expressing his own personal wishes.”
“In late spring, when the making of the of the spring clothes has been completed, together with five or six friends and six or seven boys, I would like to bathe in the River Yi, and then enjoy the breeze among the rain dance altars and return home singing.” Confucius heaved a deep sigh and said: “I am with Dian.”
After the three others had left, Zeng Dian remained behind and said: “What did you think of their wishes?” Confucius said: “Each simply confided his own personal wishes.”
Zeng Dian asked: “Why did you smile at Zilu?”
Confucius said: “You should govern a state according to the rites; yet his words weren’t humble.”
“As for Ran Qiu, wasn’t he in fact talking about a real state?”
“Indeed. I have never heard of ‘a domain of sixty to seventy, or fifty to sixty li (miles)’”
And Gongxi Chi? Wasn’t he also talking about a state?”
“A conference in the Ancestral Temple! What could it be but a major gathering?” And if Gongxi Chi were there just to serve as a junior assistant, who would be qualified to be in charge of it?”
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Exercising self-discipline and returning to ritual constitute goodness. If you manage to exercise self-restraint and return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world. You can only achieve goodness through your own efforts. How can it come from anybody else?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what specific steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that goes against ritual; don’t listen to anything that goes against ritual; don’t say anything that goes against ritual; don’t do anything that goes against ritual.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to live up to your guidance.”
When Ran Yong asked about goodness, Confucius said: “When you are away from home, act towards everyone as if you are meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you are conducting a great sacrifice. Do not do to others what you would not wish done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “I may not be particularly bright, but with your blessing I will strive to follow your guidance.”
Sima Niu was full of sorrow: “All men have brothers; I alone have none.” Zixia said: “I have heard this: life and death are ordained by Fate, wealth and honors are assigned by Heaven. An exemplary person always shows respect and courtesy to others. Within the four seas all men are his brothers. How could an exemplary person complain that he has no brothers?”
Confucius said: “If you expand your learning through culture and keep your behavior in check with the rites you are unlikely to go wrong.”
Zilu asked: “If the ruler of Wei were to entrust you with the government of his state, what would be your first priority? Confucius said: “It most definitely would be to rectify the names.” Zilu said: “Really? Isn’t that a little strange? How would that make things right?” Confucius said: “How dense can you get! If an exemplary person doesn’t understand what he is talking about, they should remain silent. If the names are not correct, language does not accord with the truth of things. When language does not accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully. When nothing can be carried out successfully, the rites and music will not flourish. When the rites and music don’t flourish, punishments and penalties miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, the people do not know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, an exemplary person must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever they want to talk about, and they must also make sure they do exactly as they say. When it comes to speaking, an exemplary person doesn’t allow any carelessness.”
Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to be taught about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a small-minded man! If a ruler loves the rites, the people would not dare to be disrespectful. If a ruler loves rightness, the people would not dare to be disobedient. If a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people would not dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to him from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to know about farming?”
Zilu asked how to define a “complete man”. Confucius said: “Take a man as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as abstemious as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as proficient in the arts as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in the rites and music, and he may be considered a complete man.” Then he added: “But must a complete man be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided his daily life may also be considered a complete person.”
Zizhang said: “In the Book of Documents it is written: ‘When King Gaozong was mourning his father, he did not speak for three years.’ What does this mean?” Confucius said: “This did not apply only to King Gaozong; all the ancients did the same. When a king died, all the officials gathered together and took their orders from the prime minister for three years.”
Confucius said: “When their rulers love the rites, the people are easy to manage.”
A boy from the village of Que came bearing a message. Someone asked about him, saying: “Is he likely to improve himself?” Confucius said: “I have noticed that he seats himself among others and walks alongside people older than himself. He is not looking to improve himself; he wants to grow up too fast.”
Confucius said: “A leader takes rightness as his essence, practices it in conformity with the rites, enacts it with humility, and faithfully brings it to fruition. This is how a leader behaves.”
子曰：「知及之，仁不能守之，雖得之，必失之。知及之，仁能守之，不莊以 之，則民不敬。知及之，仁能守之，莊以 之，動之不以禮，未善也。」
Confucius said: “Power acquired through knowledge that cannot be maintained through goodness will inevitably be lost. Power acquired through knowledge and maintained through goodness will not be respected by the people if it is not exerted with dignity. Power acquired through knowledge, maintained through goodness, and exerted with dignity is still not perfect if it is not implemented in accordance with the rites.”
Mian, the (blind) music master, came to visit. When he reached the steps, Confucius said: “Mind the steps.” When he reached the mat, Confucius said: “Here is the mat.” When everyone was seated, Confucius told him: “This person is here; that person is there.” After the music master had left, Zizhang asked: “Is this the way to talk to a music master?” Confucius said: “Yes, this is the way to assist a music master.”
Confucius said, “When the Way prevails in the world, the rites, music, and punitive military campaigns are initiated by the Son of the Heaven. When the Way does not prevail in the world, the rites, music, and punitive military campaigns are initiated by the feudal lords. When they are initiated by the feudal lords, it is rare if they have not lost power after ten generations. When they are initiated by the grand families, it is rare they have not lost the power after five generations. Once junior officials take control of the fate of the state, it is rare that they have not lost power after three generations. When the Way prevails in the world, governance does not lie in the hands of the grand officials. When the Way prevails in the world, the common people do not criticize governance.”
Confucius said: “Three kinds of pleasure are beneficial to you; three kinds of pleasure are harmful to you. The pleasure of performing the rites and music properly, the pleasure of praising the qualities of other people, and the pleasure of having many wise friends; these are all beneficial. The pleasure of wild extravagance, the pleasure of idle wandering, the pleasure of lavish feasting; these are all harmful.”
Chen Gang asked Confucius’s son Boyu: “Has your father given you any special teaching?” Boyu replied: “No, he hasn’t. Once, when he was standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the Book of Songs?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the Book of Songs, you won’t be able to speak.’ I retired and studied the Book of Songs. On another day, when he was again standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the rites?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the rites, you won’t be able to take your place in society.’ I retired and studied the rites. These are the two lessons I received from him.” Chen Gang left delighted and said: “I asked one thing and learned three. I learned about the Book of Songs, I learned about the rites, and I learned how a leader keeps his distance from his son.”
Yang Huo wanted to see Confucius, but Confucius would not see him. Yang Huo sent him a suckling pig. Confucius chose a time when Yang Huo was not at home to call on him and give his thanks, but ran into him on the way. Yang Huo said to Confucius: “Come! I have something to say to you.” He continued: “Can a person be called good if they keep their talents hidden while their country has gone astray? I don’t think so. Can a person be called wise if they are eager to take part in public affairs, but constantly miss the opportunity to do so? I don’t think so. The days and months fly by; time is not on our side.” Confucius said: “All right, I shall take office.”
Confucius went to Wucheng. When he heard the sound of stringed instruments and singing, he was amused and broke out into a smile: “Why use an ox cleaver to kill a chicken?” Ziyou replied: “Master, in the past I have heard you say: ‘an exemplary person who has been instructed in the Way loves all people; common people who have been instructed in the Way are easy to govern.’” Confucius said: “My friends, Ziyou is right. The remarks I made a moment ago were just a joke.”
Confucius said: “The rites, the rites, surely there is more to them than just jade and silk! Music, music, surely there is more to it than just bells and drums!”
Ru Bei wanted to see Confucius. Confucius declined due to illness. As Ru Bei’s messenger was leaving, Confucius picked up his zither and sang loudly enough for him to hear.
Zai Yu asked: “Three years of mourning for your parents: this is a long time. If a leader doesn’t practice the rites for three years, the rites are sure to decay; if he doesn’t practice music for three years, music is sure to collapse. As the grain from last year’s crop is used up, grain from this year’s crop ripens, and the flint for lighting the fires is changed with each season. One year of mourning is surely enough.” Confucius said: “Would you be comfortable eating your fine food and wearing your fine clothes then?” “Absolutely.” “In that case, go ahead! When a leader is in mourning fine food is tasteless to him, music offers him no pleasure, and the comforts of home give him no peace, so he prefers to do without these pleasures. But if you think you will be able to enjoy them, go ahead.” Zai Yu left. Confucius said: “Zai Yu has no goodness! During the first three years after a child is born, he doesn’t leave the arms of his parents. Three years of mourning is a custom that is followed throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Yu receive three years of love from his parents?”
Zigong said: “Does a leader have things that he can’t stand?” Confucius said: “Yes. He can’t stand those who point out the evils in others. He can’t stand those in inferior positions who slander their superiors. He can’t stand those whose courage is not tempered by the rites. He can’t stand those who are impulsive and stubborn.” Confucius continued. “Do you have things that you can’t stand?” “I can’t stand those who pretend to be learned by plagiarizing. I can’t stand those who pretend to be brave by acting arrogant. I can’t stand those who pretend to be frank by being malicious.”
Confucius said: “If you don’t understand fate you cannot become a leader. If you don’t understand the rites, you cannot become a complete person. If you don’t understand the meaning of words, you cannot understand people.”